British spy dramas seem to fluctuate between action films/shows (James Bond, Spooks, Strike Back) and really boring melodrama (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Full disclosure: I only read TTSS and I was so bored with it that I didn’t bother to watch the movie.
London Spy is five episodes long, and it tells the story of a former club-hopper who falls in love with a secretive, straight-laced guy who is eventually revealed to be a spy. The club-hopper, Danny, finds his lover, Alex, dead in a trunk, and Danny is immediately charged in a death that’s framed to look like an auto-erotic asphyxiation game gone very, very wrong. Danny eventually becomes unhinged as he unravels clues Alex left him that reveal a massive conspiracy theory.
Things I liked:
- Casting and acting. Wonderful performances by Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling.
- Production design, style, atmosphere. Alex’s parents live in a decrepit Downton Abbey-like castle without Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes to keep them in line. Alex himself lived in a sterile apartment that betrayed nothing of the genius he was. Danny and his confidant, Scottie, each lived in places that were more warm and lived-in. London is very, very pretty, in a gray-and-navy sort of way. For a club kid with no apparent job or other form of income, Danny certainly had nice threads.
- The eventual twist to the story. I said “oh no” OUT LOUD–that’s how shocked and surprised I was– when we learned what really happened during Alex’s last hours and why he died.
Things I didn’t like:
- Certain parts of the plot.
- We didn’t get to know Alex as a person. We don’t know how he came up with the project he was working on, how he decided to that Danny meant so much to him that he was willing to leave traces of his secret life behind. He was just a device as a means for his mother and Danny to come to terms with grief. LOOK AT HOW PRETTY ALEX IS. I’d have liked to have seen more of him.
- Danny was ranting and raving about many, many fantastical things. He had two very nice roommates who apparently put up with Danny’s very public arrest, his crazy ramblings in the paper, and the fact that he had no job. No one suggested that he be committed or at the very least talk to a psychiatrist.
- Scottie knew several people from his spy days who could not help unlock a very rudimentary combination lock but could decipher Alex’s very complicated and highly theoretical research. OK.
- Pacing. There were appearances by random people who were really there just to chew scenery (looking at you, Mark Gatiss, although I love your work on Sherlock) and not move the plot along. We did not get to the meat of the story until the last half hour of the whole entire series. Until then, it was Danny running around London looking very sharp and dapper, living rent-free in London.
I do recommend the show, if only for how it demonstrates that one truly has no privacy, no matter what Apple tells you; the implications of being in love with someone and not really knowing who he is; and how despite your best intentions, your child can never redeem who you are.